File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-21.060, message 53

Date: 20 Jan 97 23:09:00 EST
Subject: M-I: The Reverend

   My local newspaper, the Troy Record, is delivered by a tall, thin, elderly
man, whose bearing combines a certain courtliness with the hint of 
obsequiousness put on by his generation of African-Americans when dealing
with with white people. He drives an ancient station wagon, loaded with
newspapers and littered with receipts that speckle the dashboard like
dandruff. He used to bring a few small children with him in the car, to
drop the papers on the door-steps. Now he seems to be working alone.

   He is the Rev. Jake Small, a minister in fact, with a congregation 
down the hill in the heart of Troy's black community. I had first heard 
of him back when we had a SWP branch in town, and we used to sell the 
Militant at Adirondack Steel, a foundry in Waterviliet, across the 
Hudson. The Reverend was, at that time, the president of the 
steel-workers local in the plant.

   The mill closed in the late eighties, early nineties recession, 
another area victim of the ruthless US rationalization of production. I 
found out later from a former Adirondack  worker named George, who got a job as
laborer on the railroad, that the foundry had made the massive trucks for
locomotives, the frame that holds the wheels in place. George had poured 
steel for them. He recognized some of the ones he had made on the engines
he moved around the mechanical yard.

   George, a large, powerful African-American, had a run-in with a 
certain yard engine driver, who was notorious for over-riding the 
laborers' instructions concerning the movement of locomotives So far he
hasn't killed anyone..Even the most mild-mannered of hostlers have had trouble
with him.
 He used a racial epithet in the dispute with George, to his sorrow. George
picked him up 
with one hand and held him in mid-air until he apologized, which he did 
with alacrity. The white guys at the fuel plant tell this story 
gleefully, despite their own casual and unthinking prejudices. 

   George was forced to quit his railroad job when his son contracted a 
terminal illness. The railroad management wouldn't give him enough time 

 Several  years later, Clint, another African-American Adirondack Steel 
graduate came on the railroad as a laborer. He was a few years from 
retiring. He had been let furloughed from his crane operator's job by the 
big steel plant next to Adirondack's foundry, whose name has changed so 
many times that I can't remember it. I think it is owned by a Korean 
corporation now, or is it Canadian? I interviewed for a machinists job
there once. The empty machine shop building they showed me looked like the
set of a prison movie, gray lathes sitting in pools of gray light from the gray
outside reflecting off the gray factory bricks. I wasn't too disappointed when
they didn't hire me.

   Clint told me about the Reverend Jake's negotiating style. He would 
virtually hold a sit-in in the manager's office when a dispute would come
up. Smiling, nodding, he would act the deferential supplicant, much as he does 
with me when it's time to pay my newspaper bill. His persistence, according to 
Clint, generally paid off. Management would settle just to get rid of 

  Clint says that the Reverend is another man when he gets in front of 
the pulpit. "You wouldn't know him," he says. I try to imagine it, but 
the Uriah Heepish picture I have of him is too strong.

  As the economic crunch came for the mill, the younger members of the 
predominately black work force became restive. They voted the Reverend 
out, and drew a line in the sand. The mill closed. Clint thinks if the 
Reverend had still been in office something could have been worked out. I
don't have the heart to argue with him on this.

  My newspaper money-reckoning is due again. When I tell the Reverend 
that I work with Clint he smiles. Then he repeats Clint's version of 
events and shakes his head at the impetuosity of youth. I don't have the 
heart to argue with him either. I pay my bill and watch him stride down 
the street to his next account, his greenish old suit-coat flapping in 
the autumn wind. He is a survivor. Another generation is hiring on now, 
with a clean slate in their heads.

Jon Flanders



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